In 1152, the German princes elected as their king, Frederick Barbarossa, whose name means Red-Beard, and who was from the House of Hohenstaufen. Frederick considered it his mission to reconstruct the German monarchy, and aimed to harness the new feudal forces of the age to his advantage. Thus, Frederick encouraged the princes of the realm to expand their own power and privileges at the expense of lesser lords. At the same time, he forced the princes to recognize his lordship over the entire kingdom. In essence, Frederick made the ducal princes his tenants-in- chief or feudal vassals.
Frederick claimed that he was the successor of the Caesars of the Roman Empire and thus, had the right to enjoy the sovereignty that Roman law attributed to the emperors. Frederick's Italian ambitions threatened the independence of the Papacy and the town communes. As a consequence, the Italian towns formed a coalition called the Lombard League which was backed by the Papacy and defeated Frederick's forces at Legnano in 1176.
In Germany, Frederick achieved a more resounding victory over Henry the Lion, the powerful duke of Saxony who had refused to aid him in his Italian war. Frederick used the Feudal System to summon Henry in 1180 to face trial as a disloyal vassal. With Henry humiliated and deprived of his lands, Frederick was the unchallenged master of Germany.
Frederick claimed to be a special protector of the Church and a holy figure. During his reign, the German Empire was first called the Holy Roman Empire, a title which remained in use until its demise in 1806.
- ^ Swyrich, Archive materials
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